Briefly note two things about the phrase “those who are in Christ Jesus.” First, it’s a limiting phrase. Only “those” who have faith “in Christ Jesus” enjoy justification. If we don’t believe, then the will with the wonderful inheritance is not ours. Second, it’s an indiscriminate phrase. In Paul’s time, one of the big issues was how Jews and gentiles (non-Jews) were to relate to each other. As far as Jesus is concerned, those who believe in Him are accepted by God right here, right now, regardless of their ethnicity, skin color, gender, or socioeconomic status. That’s not because of faith itself, or faith in faith, or even the amount or quantity of faith. Faith in Christ, and only faith in Christ, grants this assurance that we’re accepted by God because of Christ. The object of our faith is what saves us, not faith in itself, and faith saves only because it unites us to the Savior. This means:
- Jesus is the One who takes the sinful and makes them righteous.
- Jesus is the One who takes the unclean and makes them clean.
- Jesus is the One who takes the orphaned and makes them sons and daughters.
- Jesus is the One who takes the naked and gives them clothes.
- Jesus is the One who takes the enemy and makes them friends.
- Jesus is the One who takes the condemned and makes them innocent.
- Jesus is the One who takes the dead and makes them alive.
- Jesus is the One who finds the lost and makes them found.
Sinner, do you believe in this Jesus? There’s now no condemnation for you.
Reasons for Assurance (Rom. 8:2–3)
Verses 2–3 are like watching a time-lapse video of a rose blooming. If you try to watch a rose bloom in real time, it’s not impressive. But when you watch it happen in time lapse, you see the detail of each petal opening up to reveal yet another. Each verse here is like a petal opening up. Paul goes on to give us the reasons we’ve passed from a state of condemnation to a state of justification twice using “for” or “because.” John Calvin said this word signifies a “proof of the former sentence.” He doesn’t just tell us what we’re in Christ; he tells us why. There’s no condemnation for the believer in Christ because “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).
Our Past Slavery to Sin and Death. Liberty presupposes slavery. That’s why Paul says we’ve been “set free . . . from the law of sin and death.” Paul uses “law” in two senses. With the “Spirit of life” or Holy Spirit he uses it ironically. With “sin and death” he uses it literally, as he did in chapter 7 (e.g., Rom. 7:1). Paul refers to the law as “the law of sin and death” because it’s a powerful instrument. First Corinthians 15:56 says, “The power of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” The law powerfully charges with sin, and sin leads to death. There once were two unregenerate teenage boys—I can neither confirm nor deny that I was one of them—going through a neighborhood during trick-or-treating to destroy jack-o-lanterns. They heard the siren of a police car. They said to themselves, “The law is after us.” As they thought they were safe, a car pulled up and its occupant asked, “Did you think you could outrun the law?” When we speak this way, we mean the power to arrest, condemn, and punish lawbreakers.
Our past slavery to sin meant that we were in bondage to “sin” because of the law. We were in slavery to the guilt imputed to us from Adam. We were in slavery to the corruption of sin that was produced in us by that first sin. We were in slavery to the actual sins we ourselves committed. It’s this practical slavery to actual sin that Paul particularly has in view. In Romans 7:5 he said, “While we were living in the flesh”—our unregenerate state—“our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” Because of our sinfulness, the law is only able to show us our sins and to stir up even more (Rom. 7:8, 11). None of this is the fault of the law itself, of course. It is the fault of sin, which lays hold of the law to incite us to further sin. Apart from grace, when sinners meet the law, they are stirred up to further sin.
Our past slavery to sin meant that we were in bondage to “death” because of the law. The law’s original curse that “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17) continues: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The law condemned us with its verdict of death when we were outside of Christ. Death in this life is the separation of the soul from the body; in the life to come it’s separation from hope of receiving the love and grace of God and instead experiencing only His justice and wrath. Richard Sibbes described death in this way: “All the clothes I, and flowers you, put upon a dead body cannot make it but a stinking carcass; so all the moral virtues, and all the honors in this world put upon a man out of Christ, it makes him not a spiritual living soul; he is but loathsome carrion, a dead carcass, in the sight of God, and of all that have the Spirit of God.”